I’ve been looking forward to Jeff James’ reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion ever since it was announced, James having worked with Ivo van Hove as an associate director and the evidence of his work that I’ve seen thus far (in La Musica) really impressing. The influence from the Belgian master is palpable but it is manifesting itself in fascinating ways, interrogating notions of adaptation and theatrical experience in ways that we too rarely see in the UK.
You see it in the ways that he uses the relatively inflexible space of the Royal Exchange (IMHO van Hove rarely gets the credit he deserves for the way in which he reinvents theatrical space) and the way he positions his actors, saying so much about relationships and their dynamics without a word. And Alex Lowde’s supremely contemporary design boldly situates this Regency drama in the here and now, shifting even within itself in showing us Anne Elliot’s world.
For the uninitiated, Anne is one of Austen’s old maids, firmly on the shelf at the age of 27 having allowed herself 8 years ago to be talked out of marriage to Captain Wentworth due to his penniless position. Discontented with her lot, with the way her family treat her, with women’s role in an image-obsessed society, James and fellow adaptor James Yeatman don’t actually transform the story that much in transposing it to the modern day and it remainsas insightful as it ever did.
Lara Rossi’s Anne is a wonderfully restrained tumultuous mess and around her, there’s great work from a talented ensemble covering a number of roles – Caroline Moroney and Cassie Layton’s Musgrave sisters, Helen Cripps’ Mary and Samuel Edward-Cook’s Wentworth all standing out. Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design is also on top form, folding in a contemporary playlist that features the likes of Frank Ocean and Nicki Minaj, perfect for dancing through any amount of foam.